Platinum’s Progress

The U.S. platinum jewelry and watch market continues to thrive, despite drops in world demand in 2005 plus the highest per-ounce price for the white metal in 26 years (see sidebar, p. 67). Helping spur demand are technical innovations, less-expensive jewelry, and novel promotions that are widening the U.S. market and targeting new customers, including men and teenagers. Here’s a look at some initiatives.

LIGHTWEIGHT TECHNOLOGY

Innovative technology is creating lighter, more affordable pure platinum jewelry. One example is 1Platinum1, a Dallas designer and manufacturer of 950 platinum jewelry, which focuses on young adults, starting with teenagers. “That’s where the platinum business is,” says vice president Terry O’Malley. “They’re the biggest driver, including the push for more product diversity, which general retailers haven’t given them. They already like white metals like silver or white gold, so the next step is platinum. They easily spend $100 or $250 on something they like.”

1Platinum1’s jewelry retails for $99 to $1,500. It also creates one-of-a-kind pieces, some seen at recent Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globes, and Latin Music awards shows. How can it offer inexpensive pieces, considering platinum’s weight (60 percent denser than 14k gold) and high price? “Weight influences price, so when the price [of platinum] goes up, you’ve got to use technology to keep it down,” says O’Malley. “We take different technologies— including those not normally found in the jewelry industry, but that are in the aerospace industry—to keep our jewelry affordable. They include die striking, vertical extrusion, CAD (computer- aided design), and CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), and we’re developing a use for hydroforming.”

1Platinum1’s market includes independent jewelers (65 percent of its business), TV shopping channels, department stores, and mass merchants. It has a Web site (www.1platinum1.com) and a successful military PX business, aimed at lower-middle income categories, doing 2 to 2.6 inventory turns annually. “The myth that only people with money buy platinum is false,” says O’Malley, referring to 1Platinum1’s youth and military business. “The proof is, give them a price point they can afford, and they buy.”

A NEW PROCESS

Others are creating their own technologies. The EganaGoldpfeil Group, an international watch, jewelry, and accessories manufacturer and marketer, has a new way to make platinum jewelry that costs retailers 20 percent to 40 percent less, it says. It was developed over three years by two EganaGoldpfeil jewelry subsidiaries, Abel & Zimmermann GmbH and Guthmann + Wittenauer GmbH, in Pforzheim, Germany.

The 950 platinum jewelry isn’t cast but is made through stamping, tooling, and soldering. Pieces are joined to create hollow, lightweight jewelry. The result: larger but less expensive platinum pieces that can be set with diamonds and other gemstones.

The jewelry was launched at EganaGoldpfeil’s own fashion fair in Germany in January and was displayed at the Inhorgenta Fair in Munich in February and at BaselWorld in Switzerland in April. A worldwide marketing and ad campaign began earlier this spring.

The new jewelry line, called Excession, will be launched in the U.S. market this year by EganaGoldpfeil USA (outside Dallas) under the Abel & Zimmermann brand. It will retail for around $2,000 to $8,400.

CLASSIC MEANS TO A MODERN END

Others are using traditional means to make lightweight platinum jewelry and reach new customers. One is award-winning designer Gurhan, who pioneered contemporary 24k gold jewelry. In November, his company launched a platinum jewelry line, with about 300 handmade pieces, starting at $2,000 retail. It opened at Saks and went to other retailers in April. “We always had a few small items in platinum, but this is our first collection,” notes marketing director Scott Marshall. It isn’t a one-shot effort. “We’re in for the long haul,” he says.

By late January Gurhan had already done just under $1 million in sales.

Why add platinum? “Many women love the Gurhan look, but not necessarily in gold, while others with gold jewelry are moving into platinum. So, it’s a natural expansion into that market,” Marshall says. “It also opens us to a broader set of customers: women who love platinum, especially those in their late 20s.” (Gurhan’s average customer is in her 30s.)

Platinum in its purest form has characteristics similar to pure gold, so Gurhan and his staff use some of the same techniques—some thousands of years old—on both. “But this is our own spin on platinum,” says Marshall. “We’re doing things no one else is, like hammered finishes, large surfaces, granulation, and precious stones, with no two pieces alike. People haven’t seen these before in platinum. This is new and unique to the market.” It’s also lighter, says the company, and more price-competitive among high-end jewelry. “Because we do these by hand, we bring down platinum’s thickness much lower, making it lighter than it would be by casting,” Marshall notes.

Other companies unveiling lighter, more affordable platinum jewelry include Novell Design Studio (American, Rose Veltri jewelry), Zettl (German, La Doña collection), and Calgaro (Italian). These and others joining the trend are making the market more accessible to more U.S. consumers.

A MAN’S DREAM

Others are widening it with innovative marketing. One is Hearts On Fire. Since its 1996 founding, it’s used gold jewelry to showcase its diamonds, but in recent months it’s begun creating its couture and bridal collections in platinum. “We still use white and yellow gold in our basic designs,” says spokeswoman Rachel Clementi, “but as platinum has become more popular—especially with women in my generation (age 30 and under)—there’s more demand. So, we’re increasing our product in it.”

One of its most original new platinum items, though, is aimed at men, not women. “Men’s jewelry is becoming more popular, but we wanted to do more than follow a trend,” Glenn Rothman, chief executive officer of Hearts On Fire, told JCK. “We saw an opportunity to go beyond showy jewelry and appeal to successful, powerful men with something far more meaningful, something we call the DreamStone.”

The DreamStone, conceived by Rothman and in development for over a year, is flat, solid, pebble shape, and pure platinum. Though similar to “worry stones” used in Ireland and Asia, it was “inspired by touchstones used in ancient times to summon strength and focus energy,” says Rothman. “This isn’t jewelry, though it can be worn as a pendant,” adds Clementi. “It’s a new category: a talisman or status symbol successful men can carry everywhere with them.”

DreamStones retail for $4,000 (one inch) and $16,000 (two inches), and each has a serial number. There also are engraved special editions, and in January the company added mini-DreamStone cufflinks.

PLATINUM JEWELERS

More jewelers are using invitation-only “platinum parties” to promote their stores and platinum jewelry, partnering with consumer magazines like Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, and Lucky and assisted by Platinum Guild International USA. The trend began in 2004 at nine-store Boston-based Lux Bond & Green, with two in-store events featuring cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, collections from well-known designers and manufacturers, and even lifestyle items like platinum-accented giftware.

Other jewelers hosting platinum parties recently include Day’s Jewelers, Manchester, N.H.; Wedding Day Diamonds, Burnsville, Minn.; Long’s Jewelers, Boston; Robbins Bros., Fullerton, Calif.; and Cornell’s Jewelers, Rochester, N.Y. In addition to showcasing branded platinum fashion and bridal jewelry, each party enabled guests to meet designers and magazine editors. Designer Jeff Cooper, for example, visited Robbins, while Jane Loddo, Harper’s Bazaar’s merchandising editor, spoke at Cornell’s about fashion trends. Some guests won prizes, including a $2,000 heart-shape platinum pendant raffled at Long’s, and all received gift bags provided by PGI USA and the store’s magazine partner.

For Long’s, the parties were “a great way to reach Lucky’s readers, share our home with them, and educate them about platinum,” says marketing director Rebecca Garnick. “We created relationships with great potential for future sales.”

Cornell’s event was also successful, says vice president Olivia Cornell, especially considering the store isn’t in a major metropolitan area. “To have such a large number of guests at one time was really something special,” she says.

“This exceeded all my expectations,” said Shannon Hass of Wedding Day Diamonds. “There’s definitely a new buzz for platinum in our stores.”

Essential to the success of these parties, say retailers, are knowledgeable salespeople. PGI USA offers a free Platinum Opportunity Sales Kit that includes a catalog of sales-enhancing programs plus a list of PGI USA representatives, like those doing in-store training. PGI also sells a platinum education and sales training DVD and will send an expert to a store, for a fee, to teach salespeople.

“I don’t think [the platinum party] would have been as successful if we hadn’t had our in-store training by PGI USA,” says Garnick. “The sales associates were very prepared and ready to sell platinum.” Cornell also praises the PGI training: “Our sales associates are confidently selling our platinum jewelry.”